Russ Stilwell: What were they thinking?
Wednesday, December 21, 2011 6:11 AM
BOONVVILLE - After reviewing all of the attention being focused on Right to Work in our Hoosier state by the proponents and opponents, I realized the obvious: Gov. Daniels and our Republican legislative leaders want the same things that I do.
One might ask, how can that be? After all, Russ Stilwell is a passionate labor advocate, former member of the House Democrat caucus and an outspoken opponent of most of the anti-labor agenda items the Republican leadership is delivering to our state.
Yep, it’s true. They want good-paying jobs that support a family. They tout jobs with benefits like health care and a vacation every now and then. And a job that just might provide a little retirement nest egg.
And guess what? That’s exactly what almost every union job provides. It just does not make any sense that this is the same gang that sets out to destroy labor unions and our middle class.
The Republican-controlled legislature and their leadership team cannot call our Hoosier state a great place to live when they place the blame for our economic peril and high unemployment on our public servants who educate our kids, pick up our trash and clean their offices.
When they seek to eliminate unions, end collective bargaining and initiate Right to Work, they are seeking to undermine the middle class as we know it.
They are destroying the only segment of our society that demands that Hoosier workers are paid a fair wage, have a safe place to work and share in the fruits of their labor. Many of our prominent presidents and national leaders seem to agree:
”Every advance in this half century – Social Security, civil rights, Medicare, aid to education, one after another – came with the support and leadership of American Labor.” – President Jimmy Carter
Only a handful of reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions and depriving working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice. I have no use for those, regardless of their political party, who hold some vain and foolish dream of spinning the clock back to days when organized labor was huddled, almost as a hapless mass.
“Only a fool would try to deprive working men and women of the right to join the union of their choice.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower
“Our labor unions are not narrow, self-seeking groups. They have raised wages, shortened hours, and provided supplemental benefits. Through collective bargaining and grievance procedures, they have brought justice and democracy to the shop floor.” – President John F. Kennedy
“If I went to work in a factory, the first thing I’d do would be to join a Union.” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt
“There are no rights and no work in Right to Work.” – Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
I recognize that only about 12% of Hoosier workers are in unions. But that 12% sets the standards across the board in salaries, benefits and working conditions. If you are making a decent salary in a non-union company, you owe that to a union.
And now our illustrious legislative leadership has proclaimed that the implementation of Right to Work will produce more jobs, bring in more companies and treat workers with dignity and respect. Give me a break. Don’t think most Hoosiers are ready to start drinking that Kool-Aid.
I’m sure that these same leaders must have supported the ill-fated Herman Cain presidential campaign. They must have loved his 9-9-9 plan. After all, it sounds just like the recently implemented Hoosier 25-25-25 plan: Cut unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for workers by 25%. Cut corporate and business UI taxes by 25%. Cut corporate income tax 25%. There are many Hoosiers who believe that unions might be the last line of defense for workers and keeping the middle class. These same folks also don’t buy into the theory that the implementation of RTW is because of some economic advantage.
They see it as I do. It’s a political assault to put labor unions out of business in our state. It’s a final stake in the heart of those who, for the most part, support the “other political party.”
We constantly hear that Indiana ranks fifth in the nation for a great business environment. Yet these same folks blame unions for not having enough jobs. Their solution? Destroy unions, pass RTW and pass another tax break for folks who just don’t need them.
RTW is a simple but divisive concept. I guess that most of the General Assembly members don’t fully understand it.
RTW is no more than mandating that there cannot be a union security clause in any labor agreement. It is not about protecting workers from paying mandatory dues.
I keep hearing the Chamber of Commerce, that great institution of workers’ rights, defending Hoosier workers against forced unionism. It’s the first time I’ve heard the Chamber defending workers’ rights in a long, long time. And they got it all wrong.
Workers in union shops do not have to belong to the union. But they do have to pay a “fair share” for having representation and benefits of a union contract provided by their union.
Right to Work actually means that a worker in a union shop would not have to pay any fees for union representation, but get all the rights and privileges of the union contract.
And the union must represent these non-paying workers in all contractual matters, just like they do for their co-workers who pay union dues. And get this. They can even sue the union if they believe they don’t get fair representation.
This isn’t about fairness for Hoosier workers. This is about pay-back time. It is all about the business community and their Republican allies banding together to weaken unions and help make our state union free.
Each time the House Republicans overreached, they paid the price in the next election. Yep, history does repeat itself. They did it with prevailing wage in 1995 and lost in ‘96. They did it again in 2005 and lost in ‘06.
And they are doing it again in 2011 and will pay the price in 2012. Yes, we do have referendums in Indiana. They are called elections.
My predictions? Right to Work legislation will slow the 2012 session of the Indiana General Assembly to an absolute crawl so broad and consuming that Hoosiers will think it has come to an absolute halt.
There will be more protests, more lobbying and more television and news shows focusing on this one single issue than all other issues combined in past years. RTW will take the breath out of every other issue before the legislature.
I predict that national pundits will set up shop in Indiana (both from the right and the left) and make our Hoosier state the centerpiece of what’s wrong with America. And just in time for the Super Bowl week with an international audience!
And I predict that at the end of the day, folks will be asking, “Why didn’t we talk about jobs? Why didn’t we talk about our schools?”
And as the 2012 session begins and explodes, they will ask the old question: “What were they thinking?”
Stilwell is a former Democratic majority leader in the Indiana House.